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Transformers Combiner Wars
by yo go re

Hasbro's done it again.

Freedom fighter who would sacrifice his own spark if it would bring peace.

Last year, during "May Mayhem," Hasbro offered exclusive versions of Wildrider and Slingshot, the characters who had been replaced (in their respective Combiners) by Offroad and Alpha Bravo. The characters were already included in Takara gift sets, but this was their first North American release. Well, Menasor and Superion weren't the only Combiners who had new limbs (or the only teams who had new members) - there was also Defensor, who brought us Rook. Rook claimed the place in the Protectobots that usually belonged to Groove, so this year, May Mayhem brings us a Deluxe Class Groove.

As with the 2015 figures, Groove was originally available in Japan. While most of the "Combiner Wars" toys were jointly designed by Hasbro and Takara, the 'bro had no intention of releasing Groove, and therefore had no input on his creation. That means there are a few quirks to his design that are unique to Japanese releases. For instance, his head is much less square than all the figures we've reviewed so far, and the entire back half is molded from crystal clear plastic, allowing the eyes to be lightpiped.

Groove is that rarest of beasts, a "Combiner Wars" Transformer with a fully unique mold. We've seen so many repaints and reshells in this line, so many reused bodyparts, it's weird to remember when Transformers were just themselves. Since this mold doesn't have to do double-duty as anyone else, the sculpt is free to directly reference the 1986 Groove toy. The head is the strongest parallel, but the shapes on the sides of his chest somewhat reflect the stickers on the old toy. That toy was an undetailed lump, though, so this one still invents a lot of new elements. There's ribbed detailing on his upper and lower arms, raised lines on the front of his shins, big tall knees, etc.

One thing that isn't changed? The articulation. Since all the Combiner Wars figures need to turn into fully interchangeable limbs, they all have to move the same way. The robot's colors are based on the cartoon rather than the old toy, because that's the way Japan rolls. Example: the toy had a silver chest and waist, red abdomen, and red arms; the cartoon had a yellow-brown chest and waist, white abdomen, and silver arms. All that, plus the bright yellow face, makes it clear where "Combiner Wars" Groove takes his inspiration. [A variant of the toy did have a gold chest --ed.] He's armed with the same Gatling hand/foot/gun as Blades, but also has two guns of his own! Domo arigato, Takara Tomy! They're molded in translucent plastic, then the bodies are painted silver and the lights(!) on top are tinted red.

The original Groove changed from a robot (who barely had any recognizable limbs) into a fairly decent motorcycle. This Groove turns still turns into a motorcycle, but it's pretty crummy. The arms become the engine, which is nice, but he still has visible hands. The back end is basically just a box floating above the rear wheel, which doesn't look right at all. Or rather, it looks like a delivery bike with a big cargo box on the back. This is the squarest motorocycle in history!

It's not all bad, though. The guns plug onto the sides of the bike, just like they did in G1, and you can actually turn the front wheel side to side (though not the handlebars). The windshield is translucent blue, and there are trans red lights on either side. A kickstand folds out of one arm, and there's a 5mm port in front of the seat where the big gun can go.

Groove is part of the Combiner Wars line (or, in Japan, "Unite Warriors"), so it's no surprise that he can turn into a limb for one of the larger robots - theoretically the right leg of Defensor, but really anywhere you want. Takara designed him with notches on his sides, so you can fold the arms down farther than usual. The conversion to both modes is far from difficult, but the solidity of the leg mode is better than the arm - in part because the robot's hip joints (when serving as the arm's elbow) aren't stiff enough to hold up a gun.

Most of Hasbro's Combiner Wars toys came with a reprint comic, but not Groove. Is it because he's coming out so far after the other characters? No, because even figures that have come out in the past couple months, like the Combaticons or the Autobots, have included comics. Is it because he's a special release? No, because last year's May Mayhem sets had comics. Is it because he's also being released in Taiwan, and that would have required different printings of the comic? Maybe. Maybe they just wanted to cut a little bit of the budget since the toy itself was more complex than they're used to at the price point.

The 2015 May Mayhem dealie wasn't very well publicized ahead of time, but this year's was even worse - the first indication I had that there was going to be a North American release of Groove at all was when somebody said he'd sold out on Amazon. (I have Sprocket to thank for having my back.) If you want a Groove, you can still preorder him, but here's an unpopular opinion: given the way the final toy turned out, Hasbro was right to replace Groove with Rook; the robot and limb modes are nice enough, but the motorcycle is thoroughly unimpressive. If you must have G1-accuracy above all else, you can take solace in the fact that the toy isn't bad, but certainly don't pay too high a price to get him.

But now the question becomes: will May Mayhem 2017 be space shuttle Blast Off, or will it be improved Technobots?

-- 06/21/16

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